When Jackson, then a high school freshman, was handed the baton by a Southwest DeKalb Lady Panthers teammate during the 4x100-meter relay AAAA state championships in 2006, she was behind six opposing runners and her coach was expecting at best, a fourth place finish in the event.
Jackson, a senior now, admitted that that day at Albany State University, she wasn’t sure what she could do.
“I had to catch six girls,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be able to do it, because you can only do so much.”
After one blazing lap around the track, Jackson had passed all of her opponents and propelled the Lady Panthers to the 4x100m relay AAAA state title.
Lady Panthers track and field coach Antoinette Tyrell said that is when she knew she had a special sprinter on her hands.
“I was in shock,” she said. “When I saw her go from seventh to first I said to myself, ‘Oh we have us something special.’ This young lady has the fastest turnover that I have seen in years. I just got excited because I knew we had three more years with her.”
Jackson’s speedy run and a host of other top race finishes put her on track to sign a track and field scholarship with the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers on May 1.
Jackson, 17, said racing past those opponents her freshman year was something she didn’t believe she was capable of at first.
“After awhile I believed I could do anything,” she said. “Catching girls wasn’t a surprise for me. I was prepared for it.”
Since her freshman year Jackson, who runs the 100m and 200m dashes and is a member of the Lady Panthers 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams, hasn’t slowed down.
Heading into the AAAA state champions in Albany on May 14-16, Jackson, also a long jumper, is considered one of the best track and field athletes in Georgia.
She has helped lead the Lady Panthers to two consecutive AAAA track & field state championships. She was a member of state winners in the 4x100m from 2006 to 2008 and in the 4x400m in 2006 and 2008.
She claimed county and state runner-up honors and Region 6-AAAA championships in the 100m and 200m last year. In 2007 she was the DeKalb County runner-up in the 100m, 200m and long jump and the region 200m and long jump champion.
This season she has the ninth fastest 100m time in the nation and was the county runner-up in the 100m and long jump.
Last week, she rang up 30 points for the Lady Panthers in the region championships by winning first-place in 100m, 200m and long jump, which pushed Southwest DeKalb to their third consecutive region crown.
Tyrell said that Jackson has been the Lady Panthers’ version of Olympian Florence Griffith-Joyner.
“I’ll remember her as our Flo-Jo,” she said. “She was the driving force of the whole team. She is the reason why our team is as deep as we are as far as county championships, region championships and going for our third straight state title.”
Jackson signed her scholarship with the Lady Vols with her parents Erik Jackson and Vertrina Jackson, and her older sister, Erin Jackson, by her side in the Southwest DeKalb High School library. Over 50 classmates, teachers, coaches and family members watched her secure her track future.
University of Tennessee gear including a hat, key chain, shirt and track pants were displayed in front of her while she signed and a huge University of Tennessee towel and flag hung from the bookshelves behind her.
Jackson, who will be a college freshman at the Knoxville, Tenn. university next fall, said she has wanted to run track at ole Rocky Top since she attended a summer track event at the university when she was 12-years-old.
“I’ve always known I wanted to go to Tennessee,” she said.
Jackson said that when the Lady Vols began recruiting her last fall she was also considering the University of Florida and Vanderbilt University, so she wanted to keep her options open and not get too excited.
That all changed when she went to Knoxville in January.
“The people they were so nice, it just felt like a home outside of here,” she said. “I didn’t fill that way about my two other visits. When I was there I felt that I could thrive there for the next four years and I knew that is where I wanted to be.”
Jackson made a verbal commitment to the Lady Vols about a month before they won their second NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championship trophy in the past five seasons on March 14.
She said that was the icing on the cake.
“I wanted to go to a team that kind of mirrored my team here,” she said. “I don’t want to ever go on a team and already by the number one person, that is not a true team concept. That is what stands out about the Lady Volunteers they are a true team.”
Tyrell and Jackson’s parents also praised Jackson for her 3.9 GPA.
Tyrell, a Southwest DeKalb track coach for 11 years, added that when running Jackson can go from zero speed to top speed faster than a lot of people.
“I’ll remember Kia as the greatest sprinter that I have ever coached in this program,” she said.